Knowing that this is definitely my last year of uni ever (seriously I can’t stress this enough – I’m never coming back for more of this shit!!!) means that my mind has recently started replaying the highlight reel of past procrastination, kind of like the flashback episode of a sitcom (particularly moments from my undergrad, that was pro level).
It’s all pretty embarrassing really, here’s a list of genuine things I’ve done over the years while procrastinating,
- Got mad good at computer mah-jong and solitaire
- Decided now was the best time to learn as much of Poe’s The Raven as I could off by heart (I can still get up to verse four though!)
- Decided now was the best time to get back into knitting again
- Spent the best part of a day carefully hand-picking the arils out of pomegranates
- Watched the music video to Another Brick in the Wall a bunch of times then wondered why I wasn’t exactly feeling motivated to finish that essay
Anyway the reason I’m bringing this up is that, having a reminisce over all the self-inflicted pain which naturally comes with procrastination, has also got me thinking a lot about T.S Eliot – in particular the poem he is arguably most renowned for, The Wasteland.
While Eliot’s great line, ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’ from Four Quartets may seem like a more appropriate sentiment for talk on procrastination; The Wasteland‘s morbid exploration into the futility of modern existence, and the personal suffering behind the poem’s creation, can easily be applied to procrastination. Plus surprisingly, The Wasteland is even able to give an unintentionally optimistic perspective on treading through the shittier times (or it’s likely that maybe I’m being way too positive, it is pretty bleak).
First published in 1922, The Wasteland traces modernity’s descent into hell in five parts, and was the piece which first gained Eliot attention as a poet (interestingly James Joyce’s Ulysses was published earlier that year – my brain needs to get a whole lot more bigger and impressive before I attempt to read that though).
Throughout The Wasteland, hordes of tragic figures are mechanically walking through life,
‘I had not thought death had undone so many,
Sighs, short and infrequent were exhaled
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet’
Eliot warns of culture’s progressing erosion and the monotony to be faced trapped in ‘the wasteland’. This theme of dredging through tedium is comparable to that feeling of just wishing a task was over, to the point where you almost feel detached from the initial reason why you’re doing this work.
Yet conversely, these words are also a challenge to be better. To find purpose and beauty, and not settle for sleepwalking through your existence. In my case, I shouldn’t overlook the fact that even the most tedious tasks, form part of something greater that I care deeply about.
Going deeper, and extending beyond the poem’s words; Eliot famously credited his tumultuous eighteen year marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood for ‘…the state of mind out of which came The Wasteland’.
An awareness that the darkest point in T.S Eliot life, sparked what is arguably the most significant piece of his literary legacy, puts present unhappiness towards tedium into perspective. Yes, maybe the present feels like a struggle – but maybe by living through it, something truly brilliant will derive out of it?
[Bit of an interesting fun-fact I learnt while doing some note-taking for this post: the owners of Eliot’s old family beach house in Massachusetts claim that its haunted by Eliot’s ghost. In life, T.S was a bit of a prude, so I like to think that his ghost only appears in the throes of passion to give you a judgemental glare]